BETHEL — On Saturday, May 31, more than 200 Newtown community members gathered at the Walnut Hill Community Church in Bethel with approximately 45 members from communities across the country who have been affected by acts of mass violence to discuss their experiences of loss, healing, and post-traumatic growth. The event, titled “Community Connections: A Day of Shared Experience,” brought together a variety of perspectives of people impacted by school shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Va., Chardon High School in Chardon, Ohio, and in the Amish community in Nickel Mines, Penn., to share stories of resilience in the aftermath of tragedy.
The day was organized and hosted by a group of coordinating charities that includes The Resiliency Center of Newtown, Sandy Hook Promise Foundation, Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation, Inc, Walnut Hill Community Church, the Town of Newtown, and Newtown Public Schools in an effort to educate the community on the many service providers available and to offer an opportunity to forge connections through shared experiences of trauma.
The event began with a service provider fair of about 25 charities and a keynote speech by Dr Kevin Becker, a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in trauma and crisis, on trauma’s lasting effect on a community. His talk focused on the importance of trying to connect and empathize with others regardless of how they were impacted and on preventing isolation, which is the greatest risk factor after a trauma. A video of Dr Becker’s talk is available online.
Attendees then chose from five breakout sessions that focused on trauma’s effects on various relationships, understanding trauma, school, parent and community partnerships, preventing the breakdown of community connectedness, and the role of forgiveness in the aftermath of devastating violence.
Speakers included Carolyn Mears, whose son survived the Columbine High School shooting; Dina and Robert Parmertor, who lost their son Danny in the shooting at Chardon High School; Frank DeAngelis, the principal at Columbine High School; Frank Hall, a coach at Chardon High School who intervened when a shooter opened fire in the school cafeteria; Jennifer Hammer, Michelle Ferro, and Heather Egeland, three former Columbine students who survived the shooting; Joe and Mona Samaha, who lost their daughter Reema in the Virginia Tech shooting; Kiki Leyba, a teacher who survived the Columbine High school shooting; Lolly Miller, whose daughter was wounded but survived the Virginia Tech shooting; Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily also survived the shooting at Virginia Tech; and approximately 30 members of the Nickel Mines Amish Community, including families who lost children, families of children who were wounded, first responders, teachers, and community members, and the shooter’s mother, Terri Roberts, who travels and speaks with the Amish community because they have chosen to forgive her.
First Selectman Pat Llodra said, “I’m very grateful that we had this day. Community gives us the ability to connect through a shared experience. It can be the basis for courage, hope. and joy that will propel us to the future and can help us all going forward.”
Newtown Superintendent of Schools Dr Joseph Erardi Jr also participated in the day.
“My takeaway from this community conversation was that the day had great meaning and relevance to the Town of Newtown,” he said. “All of the presenters did extraordinary work in sharing stories that allow us to better understand our community’s next steps.”